Restaurants in North America likely employ as many immigrants, be them legal or illegal as any other workforce available. I know, I’ve worked in many, many kitchens in various parts of the planet and I was typically the minority. However from this you get to learn all of the best and worst parts about a culture in all it’s fiery glory.
Like the time when I was enjoying a Sir Lankan made curry so spicy milk would curdle when it hit my mouth, that the Sir Lankans used cutlery as a distant second to using bread. Or when I learned that when an El Salvadorian line cook whizzed a chefs knife down the line some twenty-five feet to land in a stack of bbq sauce boxes inches from my head, it didn’t mean he was in anyway upset, he was simply looking to impress me. Glad to be reassured we we’re friends…
Food is a universal playing field that you do not need to know the verbal language of anyone else involved to get your message across. This is actually amazing, you can shift feeling, express happiness or give thanks by simply sharing a piece of your edible heritage with someone else.
This also means that when I’m doing six weeks of coffee apprenticeship in a small volcanic village in Central America and I learn there will be a wedding this Tuesday, why a Tuesday I’ll never know, that I can offer up my catering services because I know my way around the kitchen, just not my way around the language.
A nice kick in the face to the wedding events was that the bride (from Norway) and the groom (from El Salvador) had arranged everything months in advance so the brides parents and brother could fly in and the grooms family could adjust their schedules for a Tuesday wedding. Several days before the wedding they had gone to confirm everything with the local hotel about the setting and food etc. The hotel informed them that instead of the price that was originally agreed upon the price would now be double for them to go through with the planned wedding.. Haha, that backfired as they cancelled everything, moved the wedding to another hotel setting and got a friend to cater instead. Ohh man I love it when people do asshole things and they get shit on!
It happen to be a mutual friend catering the wedding and I was all over a break from coffee lessons for a local cooking lesson. The caters turned out to be me and a motley crew of El Salvadorian friends banging out marinated chicken kabobs, a sort of ricotta cheese with basil and red wine vinegar reduction. Brussels sprouts with bacon and Oaxaca cheese appetizers, and some homemade tostadas. All of this would eventually come together over a good sized open fire in the hotel garden later that night.
This simple kitchen we started off cooking in wasn’t much different then a lot of catering events I’d been part of. The help looked like they were part of a death metal band, the music was a rock mix including Guns n Roses with some Nirvana, cigarettes, beers and “lefties” made their way through the kitchen & everyone poured over the food like it was their first born.
Once finished we transferred the prepared cuisine in the trunk of a 90’s sedan and rolled up to the beautiful hotel garden where the first guy I met was sitting alone looking rather dapper so I went over and introduced myself. He replied back that he’d spent the afternoon drinking beers with me while we we’re cooking. Damn, it was the groom that had sure enough been slamming beers in an old rock shirt and shorts. Woops, I felt a little silly, however he had went from looking like a criminal to a prince since I’d last seen him.
You’ll see a nice photo of two white guys staring at a cell phone rather perplexed (not totally uncommon), why is this significant you ask? Well the Minister who was meant to wed this young couple had gotten stuck in traffic en route from Santa Ana and was going to be late. In another last minute solution the hotel owner (left) and the brides brother (right) we’re devising a plan on how they could read off the vows from English to Norwegian to Spanish between the two of them to get this wedding off the ground. After a teary guitar solo that only made it to the first choirs by the groom, the brother and the hotel owner managed to pull off the trilingual vows so the Minister would only need to settle the legalities later.
Some twenty feet away all was going with the open flame bbq and the out of place pale looking kitchen help. I was enjoying my tenth or so fiesta beer along with the Chef and mid flip on the chicken kabobs when Javier my coffee teacher came abruptly onto the scene saying we had to leave right now, damn I was just getting all the right smoky smells etched into my clothing. Well just up the road it seemed another agreed upon deal was coming unwound and I needed to spring KLaiR and Stanley (my bike and the monkey on the handlebars) from where they we’re currently being held for ransom, actually.
A few weeks earlier I had them parked in the street and a nice local man who claimed to be the cousin of the owner of the hotel I was staying at (this turned out to be a bit imagined) suggested I park the bike in his house just up the street, this sounded great as it was a very well secure space. Being as my Spanish is a little weak I clarified three times that it would be free as he had said and the following day had the hotel owner translate for me. He confirmed it was indeed free and they were indeed not related thou the guy was nice. Now fast forward two weeks and someone else from the house came over having a small fit asking when I would be paying for the bike storage, now this changed things rather quickly. I don’t mind paying if that had been the deal, this surprise billing had caught me off guard. Hell I didn’t even ask to park there, he asked me to put it there and now the much less friendly lady was asking for cash. I tried to just take the bike out, I was not allowed so I had to involve some more translators. After some negotiation, an arranged phone call to the actual home owner in another city and several days of being held for ransom the time had finally come to get this bike back in my sight. When we got there I was told to wait outside while Javiar settled up some final details, five minutes later the gate was cracked and I had the duo out of there in seconds.
The timing of this seemed inconvenient, however we ended up moving KLaiR and Stanley under shade and tarp a Tavos restaurant, the guy I had spent the day catering with, and all was well in my world again.
In the end I did end up making a deal with the actual home owner to give a “tip” to the guy who had originally asked me to park in the house. He refused it the first two times, so I shoved some money in his hand said thank you and walked back to the hotel.
In this small town of misunderstanding and deals gone sideways, KLaiR and Stanley we’re happily awaiting a return to the road and the next week I saw the newly wed’s out for pupusas. Seems we all get to hang out with the ones we love the most :))
Hahahahahahahahahahaha, I’ve told so many locals my motorbikes my girlfriend I’m starting to believe it… Ohh the looks, the looks…